2012 Superbike Smackdown IX Street

Justin Dawes | June 11, 2012

Superbikes are the absolute pinnacle of the motorcycling world – the tip of the spear. These open class sportbikes have all the latest technology showered upon them by the manufacturers with the goal of delivering the most impressive performance possible from a two-wheeled machine.

Horsepower to weight levels verge on lunacy while the handling capacities are beyond 99% of the users’ skills that are buying these beasts. Yet somehow it is not ever enough for any us, and the manufactures are hell-bent on giving us what we want. While development cycles vary from brand to brand, the quest for the ultimate sport motorcycle marches on, and what was hot last year may not be anymore.

That is where your loyal servants at Motorcycle USA step in. For you the reader we toil away behind the bars and windscreens of these race-bred rockets to bring you the answers. After the riding and performance testing is done, we discuss the details and obsess over the finest of points. All in an effort to find out which Superbike is the best.

For the ninth iteration of our annual Superbike Smackdown we gathered the top offerings from eight manufactures, one of our biggest fields tested to date. As we have for the last several years, we split the testing into reviews from both the track and street. This year we begin with the Superbike Smackdown IX Street with the track results to follow in a few weeks time.

For 2012 we have a new model from Ducati, some quasi-new bikes from Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and BMW, a slightly updated KTM and a carry-over model from Kawasaki. Aprilia has also rejoined the fray with its updated repli-racer. As for the last two players in the Superbike scene, the Eric Buell Racing 1190RS and the MV Agusta F4R, neither bike was available for street testing, but one of the two will be making an appearance for the Superbike Smackdown IX Track.

Last year BMW notched it’s second victory in the Superbike Smackdown in as many years. With a record like that, Bavarian Motor Works could have just left well enough alone and still fared well this year. While the S1000RR didn’t get a complete facelift or redesign, it received a slew of revisions to the fuel injection settings and some chassis changes intended to make it easier to ride. When you are the champ it’s best not to rest on your laurels.

Certainly the most talked about and most anticipated superbike in this contest is the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S. With an all-new oversquare engine and monocoque aluminum frame the Panigale is sure to shake up the class of 2012. Last year the 1198 didn’t fare well on the street test, but we expect that the same won’t happen this time around.

Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 has been one of the most successful superbikes on and off the racetrack. It finished well in our 2011 shootout despite being unchanged for three years. This year Suzuki gave the big Gixxer a going over with new pistons, camshafts and ECU settings. Surprisingly, Suzuki still forgoes traction control on its flagship sportbike.

Honda’s CBR1000RR is another strong performer that has finally got an update although it did well in its previous trim. For 2012 Big Red just tweaked the ECU settings of the CBR’s strong running mill, wrapped it in more aerodynamic bodywork and updated the chassis with new suspension and trick-looking wheels. Just like the GSX-R the CBR comes without TC. Will the lack of electronic wizardry hurt the Honda? It hasn’t thus far. 

Kawasaki is on an off-year on the ZX-10R’s development cycle and comes into the fray with zero changes from 2011, save new paint and bold new graphics. Last year it made it up on the podium in the 2011 Superbike Smackdown VIII Street with a third-place finish proving it’s a formidable adversary. But get caught sleeping and you get left behind in this class.

The second V-Twin in this showdown is the KTM RC8R. Largely unchanged for 2012, the Austrian orange and white machine gets some new camshafts, a heavier flywheel and new ECU settings. Could the bump in engine response and power be enough to bring the RC8R further up the charts this year?

The venerable Yamaha YZF-R1 got a subtle facelift along with the addition of traction control. One of the major pluses of the R1’s crossplane crank motor is its tractability, so will the addition of TC really help the claw its way up the scoresheet? Additionally the YZF gets a new shock spring that is more progressive, and that’s it. Not a big list of updates, but it just might be enough.

Missing last year in our shootout was the Aprilia RSV4, for this year the Italian manufacturer went all-out, supplying us with the RSV4 APRC Factory. We were very impressed with the standard 2011-version when we road tested it by itself, and surmised it would have faired well in the Smackdown. With this up-spec model the results should be interesting to say the least.

To put these bikes to the test we hit the road riding from our headquarters in Irvine, California to the ever-popular sportbike roads of Palomar Mountain. This gave us plenty of time on the freeways, light-to-light blasts, traffic jams and twisty mountain curves. Afterwards we high-tailed it to a rarely-used desert airstrip to gather our performance numbers. We chose to this location because it was more like the conditions that you might encounter on the means streets with its dusty surface and cracked asphalt. How often do you find perfectly prepped drag strip launch pads on public roads? That’s right. Never. So we decided to give you data that would be more representative of real world street usage. These numbers are not the best that they can do in perfect conditions, but what they can do with imperfect circumstances.

For the street testing we assembled a mixed crew of riders equally capable of surviving the freeway commute as they are carving up our fabled canyons. As many of you know, it is arguably more important to find out how these rarified machines peform in the real world. Lap times don’t matter here, only the fun factor, comfort and handling. To help us uncover the supreme street superbike we enlisted Monster Energy’s stunt riding superstar Ernie Vigil, our Road Test Editor and superstar in his own right, Adam Waheed, and yours truly. We also brought in two wonderful ladies for the first time in our Suberbike Smackdown history. Lori Dell has been dicing up with the So-Cal canyon carvers for almost 30 years, and when I first started on sportbikes she showed me the fast lines on the famed Ortega Highway. Our second female shredder is Leah Petersen, an Icon sponsored stunt rider with more than her fair share of street experience.

Superbike Smackdown scoring consists of objective and subjective categories with each bike receiving points according to ranking. Ten points goes to the highest ranked, eight to second, seven to third and so on. The categories then get the points tabulated and then compiled to find the winner. So with that out of the way, let’s get into the meat of the Suberbike Smackdown IX.

Justin Dawes

Digital Media Producer | Raised on two wheels in the deserts of Nevada, "JDawg" has been part of the industry for well over two decades. Equal parts writer, photographer, and rider, he is a jack of all trades and even a master of some.

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